CD Review of Chinese Democracy by Guns ’n Roses
Recommended if you like
Rob Zombie, Evanescence,
Peter Cetera
Label
Geffen
Guns ’n Roses:
Chinese Democracy

Reviewed by David Medsker

()

T
he tastes of the Bullz-Eye staff are eclectic, to say the least, but if there is one band that everyone agrees on – or at the very least is fascinated with, morbidly or otherwise – it’s Guns n’ Roses. Of course, anytime a band takes 15 years and spends $13 million to make a record, everyone is going to have an opinion on the end result, which is why it seemed unfair for Chinese Democracy, Guns n’ Roses’ oft-delayed, insanely over-budget fifth album (we’re not counting their 1988 live/acoustic hybrid Lies), to be reviewed by just one of us. So we did the, um, democratic thing: we broke out the round table. Here is the conversation that followed.

Our panel: David Medsker, Will Harris, Jeff Giles, Jason Thompson, Michael Fortes, Ed Murray, Greg Schwartz

Note: Like the album, this review is epic. Get comfy.


"Chinese Democracy"

Giles: Wait – I thought we were reviewing the new Guns N’ Roses. Who is this?

Fortes: See, Axl really did dig Kurt Cobain! The drum pattern in this song is cribbed from "Drain You." I wonder what Dave Grohl thinks about that…

Schwartz: The guitar solo is plenty tricky, but Slash would never play one so gimmicky. Axl sounds in fine form, though…

Medsker: You just know that Slash heard that octave-jumping solo and shook his head.

Harris: Props for the Morricone-inspired opening bit, and it’s good to hear Axl’s voice again, but given how long people have been waiting for this album, I figured they’d open with something that would totally kick ass. They did not.


"Shackler’s Revenge"

Medsker: Hey, who let Rob Zombie in the building?

Fortes: If it were anyone else, I’d probably listen once and that would be enough, but the chorus is super catchy and Axl nails it, so...

Thompson: This is truly an Axl Rose solo album, as the Gunners would have at least made these unoriginal ingredients sound original.

Giles: Jesus Christ, there’s so much going on in here that I think even Jim Steinman would think about removing some overdubs.

Harris: Now this, I like. That said, I can’t for the life of me figure out how it took FIVE PEOPLE to write this song.

Giles: Hey, if Night Ranger’s "The Secret of My Success" can take five people to write...

Murray: Is there an editor in the house? Too many voices, sounds, parts to the song, especially in the chorus. But I love the solo on this one.


"Better"

Fortes: Love the subtle reverb on Axl’s vocal. He really does make some of the toughest woman-done-me-wrong songs.

Schwartz: Weird intro but then goes into classic Use Your Illusion-style melodic vocal that takes you right back to 1991, followed by harder rocking parts. I likey.

Giles: Hey, this one actually sounds like Axl’s singing it! Not bad, all in all...but still not great. In fact, the more I listen to it, the less I like it. Pretty ordinary.

Thompson: That intro alone screams "Major hit!" for the next NOW compilation.

Harris: Definitely my favorite of the bunch so far, though, possibly because it’s the first time Axl’s vocals sound properly Axl-ish.

Murray: Sounds like 15 years of modern rock distilled into what you’d hope and expect to hear from late-model Gn’R. Good stuff.


"Street of Dreams"

Murray: The first full-on power ballad on the album is pretty much exactly what you’d expect, right down to the epic guitar solo. Not bad if you like that sort of thing.

Schwartz: Intro sounds much like "November Rain" or "Estranged." The vocal at times sounds like Axl did a Vulcan mind-meld with Queensryche’s Geoff Tate, which actually sounds pretty cool. Lead guitar here is more Slash’s style.

Medsker: The drumming is too frenetic, though. The great thing about Matt Sorum’s drumming was that he kept it simple. The solo here sounds like no one’s listening to what the other musicians are doing. It’s still my favorite so far, though.

Fortes: Kinda whiny and mopey, but any excuse to give Dizzy Reed some room to shine on the piano is worth it. He’s totally underrated.

Giles: It feels awfully adult contemporary for a Guns n’ Roses song. I think Kelly Clarkson should cover it on her next album.

Harris: Wow, I loved the piano at the beginning…but then Axl started singing. What a puss.


"If the World"

Giles: Apparently, Ottmar Liebert was one of the 1,000 guitarists who worked on this. It’s got a certain amount of not-unpleasant industrial swagger – but is that what anyone is looking for in a Gn’R record?

Murray: The most un-Guns n’ Roses song I’ve ever heard. I’m still counting the number of guitars in the mix.

Fortes: Is this the same album? Spanish guitar, trip hop-y beats... oh, he’s whining about a woman again, definitely the same album.

Schwartz: It’s different for sure, but it’s interesting. No point in trying to do Appetite again.

Harris: If you had told me that Axl had co-written this with the Bee Gees, I would’ve believed it, because he’s totally doing some sort of Barry Gibb thing during the verses.


"There Was a Time"

Harris: Prepare for title-related joke in 3…2…1…and go: "There Was a Time" when this song might’ve held my attention for six minutes and 41 seconds, but I’m older and more easily bored now, so I fell asleep somewhere around the 4:30 mark.

Medsker: Sequencing, Axl, sequencing! Ballad, lounge song, ballad? Don’t push your luck, dude.

Schwartz: Angelic intro, symphonic background. Axl sounds deep, the guy has still got serious vibe and range.

Fortes: I think the most disturbing part of this album is not how long it took to be released, but the fact that half of it is made up of dysfunctional relationship songs to which Axl still strongly connects after a decade and a half.

Giles: Remember when Guns n’ Roses sounded like a, you know, actual band? You can tell no one was in the same room when this was recorded. And why did it have to go on for almost seven minutes?

Murray: Overlong, overproduced and overwrought.


"Catcher in the Rye"

Fortes: My favorite tune on the album, but it’s not the best version. There was a leak that hit the web last year with a better vocal take, a mix that wasn’t so busy, and an awesome guitar solo from Brian May.

Giles: Am I the only one having a hard time with this record’s overall mix? Listening to it is like watching five televisions at once – trying to concentrate on any of it is giving me a headache.

Schwartz: No one does these like Axl, mixing Queen and the Beatles with the Illusion-style rock edge. The nah nah nah chorus part works. Axl sounds so compassionate on his songs, why can’t he get along with people in real life?

Harris: I’ll be very surprised if I dig any subsequent song as much as this one. A great melodic rocker that harks back to as many of Axl’s ‘70s pop influences as he could comfortably fit into one song.

Thompson: This is exactly the kind of crud the original Gn’R was rallying against.

Murray: This song grows on me the more I listen to it. Is it Queen-like because of the presence of Brian May, or did the Queen-like arrangement just call out for Brian May’s involvement?

Fortes: Brian May is not on the final version of "Catcher," only on the old leak. Axl stripped his track out and had Robin Finck re-record it for the album.

Medsker: Yeah, because no one wants to hear Brian May play guitar. Jesus.


"Scraped"

Medsker: Is it just me, or are the solos overcompensating for a lack of songwriting everywhere else?

Schwartz: Getting back into that more industrial territory, but the verse riff is pretty wicked.

Fortes: Aside from the choir of Axls in the intro, this one has some serious balls.

Giles: I still hate the mix, and the lack of any kind of live feel, but this one has some nice attitude, and the guitars are right where they should be – all up in your solar plexus.

Thompson: This almost sounds like Axl’s old band, but those hilarious harmony vocals at the beginning make it sound like some R&B hack came in to help out the production.

Harris: It can’t be a coincidence that the most effective rock track is also the shortest song on the album.


"Riad ‘n the Bedouins"

Giles: I’m sorry, I can’t take anything with a title this lame seriously.

Fortes: It rocks, but it’s pretty ridiculous. "Riad n’ the Bedouins / Had a plan and thought they’d win / But I don’t give a fuck ‘bout them / ‘Cause I am crazy." Huh??

Thompson: Axl undoes his corn rows and finally gets down to business. But is it too late?

Schwartz: The verse is slightly reminiscent of "You Could Be Mine." The guitar solo reminds of me of Izzy’s "Double Talkin Jive," with its really high-energy break.

Murray: Wait…this might be my favorite rocker of the bunch. Songs like these two definitely remind you of why you ever liked Gn’R in the first place.

Harris: Axl sounds particularly good in the higher register on this one; he must’ve really found his sweet spot…but how many takes did it require to find it?


"Sorry"

Medsker: Hey, who let Aaron Lewis in the building?

Fortes: This is so not "doom metal," which was how Sebastian Bach had described it. More like slow, creepy doom-prog, circa 1975. It sounds way cool, definitely not a "typical" Gn’R tune.

Giles: I think by now it’s clear that this isn’t going to be the train wreck that the Axl haters were hoping for, but I can’t understand how in the hell he managed to squeeze all that money out of Geffen. The songs are fine, but that’s it. Someone should have cut bait before things got so far out of control.

Harris: While trying to match Metallica’s "Nothing Else Matters," Axl instead comes closer to finding his inner Lenny Kravitz.


"I.R.S."

Schwartz: Foreboding, hard rocking, lots of dynamic guitar changes. Axl is back!

Thompson: It wants to rock, but doesn’t have a whole lot to hang onto. Pure rote rock filler. Lots of goofy blues guitar in here, too.

Murray: Perfect example of Axl taking a solid rocker and thinking it to death.

Giles: Again, there’s a lot going on here, but most of it doesn’t seem to serve much purpose. This feels like a song waiting to happen. And waiting. And waiting.


"Madagascar"

Harris: And thus begins the album’s closing bloat-fest. And reusing "Cool Hand Luke" clips…? That’s just asking for the critics to tear you a new one.

Schwartz: Even the wah-wah guitar mimics that tune, although the symphonic stuff sounds more like Evanescence.

Fortes: It’s powerful, it has a universal message, but Axl has no business sampling Martin Luther King.

Giles: Jesus, and I thought "November Rain" was boring.

Thompson: Wow. This is bad. No, this is really bad. I mean, there’s been some bad stuff on this album, but this is truly terrible.


"This I Love"

Murray: This, I hate.

Thompson: Okay, this is just getting beyond stupid.

Schwartz: Axl wants sympathy, but give us an album more frequently than once a decade and we’ll talk.

Fortes: This song is as old as the Use Your Illusion albums. Axl had talked about it in an interview during the UYI era and called it one of the heaviest songs he ever wrote. He obviously meant emotionally heavy, because it sounds like his attempt to write for a Broadway musical. I don’t particularly care for musicals.

Giles: Oh my God, it’s Axl playing the piano lounge at Nordstrom’s. With an orchestra! Ha ha ha! Where’s Peter Cetera?

Medsker: I’m totally putting Peter Cetera in the RIYL section of the review.


"Prostitute"

Schwartz: The fact of the matter is that few artists are able to combine melodic piano with hard rocking guitar and big epic vocals like Axl does here.

Fortes: Best production on the album, hands down. Epic, sweeping, pounding drums and screaming guitars. This song and "Catcher in the Rye" are my exhibits A and B in arguing that Axl is still one of our generation’s great artists.

Harris: It’s a nice epic closing track, but – no surprise here – as the tracks fades out, I’m left thinking, "We waited this long for that?"

Murray: After the pure treacle of the last two tracks, I was hoping for another ball-grabbing rocker. Instead, we get a big, melodic, piano-led hard rock anthem. Meh.

Giles: As an anonymous quasi-metal ballad-type thing, it isn’t horrible. But as the closing statement on the album that doomed Geffen Records, it sort of reeks.

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